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The Importance of Self-Care and Rest for Healing

Published on December 3, 2019

In the summer of 2017, I discovered there is no end to the friendly advice you will receive as a cancer patient in recovery. In late June I received a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer, underwent a few rounds of whole brain radiation, and spent a few weeks in a rehabilitation facility. I was regaining my memory, re-learning how to use my right hand and arm, and trying to process what my family and I had just endured.

Friends connected me with other cancer survivors, and I received a wealth of advice and encouragement, both welcome and unsolicited. Give yourself time to grieve, cry a little bit every day until it’s out of your system, let go of the past, go to church, go vegan, stop smoking (I don’t smoke), stay strong, hang in there, watch this documentary, read this book…I kind of wanted to scream and some days I did. 

I picked up a lot of great information along the way, though. My speech therapist taught me a few clever techniques that I still use today: take a rest for every certain number of minutes of wakefulness (I may use that one a little more often than I should), use a daily planner, play memory and agility games every day. My physical therapist forced a stunning mental breakthrough: my newfound, dogged determination to regain the use of my hand, because she said there was a chance it would never work again. And my many healers showed me that opening up to the possibility we are more than these physical bodies meant I had nothing to be afraid of - especially cancer.

My original intent for this blog post was to emphasize the importance of rest and self-care for healing. But I think that is something that we already know: when we have a physical (or mental) setback, our bodies need extra sleep and rest to recover. I’ve seen a few people rush to recover or speed through time off so they could return to work. “Don’t be a hero,” a nurse told me recently, when she could tell that I was about to pass out during a breathing test. If I had taken that extra breath, I would have fallen to the floor. She saw that I was trying too hard to prove myself, because I didn’t want to appear weak. And she didn’t flinch at my tears, when I finally realized she was right. She gently put me in a wheelchair and took me through the back elevator to my oncologist’s office, so I wouldn’t be seen so publicly. 

And what is self-care? “Taking care of yourself” is open to interpretation. For me, self-care means recognizing and honoring when I need to slow down, pampering myself with some fancy moisturizer, eating more greens, and bingeing on Netflix when I need some me time. My young son gives me snuggles, the kitten he wanted gives me purr therapy, and my new puppy gives me giggles (when he’s not making me crazy by eating everything in the house). I also engage in coaching sessions with a student from my life coaching class to help me gain extra insight when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Self-care can also mean being aware of when I’m feeling sad or extra emotional, so I can try to go easier on myself. Maybe someone else’s idea of self-care includes exercise, socializing, taking a day off, getting a massage, making a phone call, going to the bar, or something far wilder than I can imagine. It’s always up to you. 

So, I won’t give you a list of “ways to relax” or “top 10 books for cancer recovery” because I honestly don’t think anyone can tell you what to do.  There are no rules when it comes to your journey…unless, of course, your doctor says so!

~Laura Levaas

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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